Thailand is to investigate reports published by WikiLeaks that Russian associates of alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout offered bribes to block his extradition from Thailand, officials said on Thursday.
According to documents published on the whistleblower website, U.S. diplomats said there had been “significant indications that the Russians were trying to use bribes to influence the outcome of the case.” “We certainly will look in to it,” government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva approved Bout’s extradition last month, drawing heavy criticism from the Russian Foreign Ministry and accusations that Thailand had bowed to U.S. political pressure in the case.
“Since coming to power, the Abhisit government has made clear it does not get involved in the legal process,” Mr. Panitan said. “The legal process is handled by the courts.” According to Thai law, the prime minister and cabinet have the right to give the go-ahead on an extradition only after it has been approved by the courts.
Bout, 43, was arrested in Bangkok in March 2008, in a sting operation organized by U.S. agents posing as arms buyers for a leftist rebel group. His extradition trial dragged on for more than two years before he was extradited to the U.S. on November 16 after a Bangkok court dropped a final case against him. A lower court last year initially refused to extradite Bout, but its ruling was overturned by an appeals court last month. Bout faces charges of illegal arms trading and selling millions of dollars worth of weapons to a terrorist organization for killing Americans. If convicted, Bout could be sentenced to life in prison.
U.S. officials alleged Bout’s air cargo business was a cover for transporting weapons and military equipment around the world, including to Africa, South America and the Middle East. Bout has denied the charges, calling them “entirely a fabrication of the U.S.”